Yoga is a complete lifestyle that encompasses the mind, body and spirit. My first instructor used to say, “It’s a work-in, not a workout.” It is all about harmonizing the body with the mind and breath through the practice of various breathing exercises (pranayamas), yoga poses (asanas) and meditation (dhyana). Many people often ask me what is the best way to start yoga or how to start doing yoga at home. There are many possibilities for how to start a yoga practice, but these are the best ways to start yoga.
The first thing you should know is that there are many different types of yoga. Why are there so many different types of yoga? The answer is simple, because there are so many different types of people in the world, and everyone has different preferences. The styles can be vastly different so it is a good idea to learn a little bit about them ahead of time so you can choose the type of yoga that is best for you.
Hatha yoga is a generic term that refers to any type of yoga that teaches physical postures (asanas). This is typically where most people get their yoga start. This is where you will learn basic yoga poses. Ashtanga is a rigorous style of yoga that follows a very specific sequence of postures and those postures are normally held for a longer period of time. Vinyasa classes are known for their fluid like movement or yoga flow. Vinyasa teachers carefully choreograph their classes for smooth transitions from pose to pose. Generally, they play music and sometimes it feels almost like a dance. Iyengar yoga is a very meticulous typed of yoga, with utmost attention spent on finding the proper alignment in a pose. In order to assist each student with achieving the proper alignment, an Iyengar yoga studio will stock a wide array of yoga props, like blocks, blankets, straps, chairs, and pillows. In a Bikram class, you will sweat a lot as you work your way through a series of 26 poses. Like Ashtanga, a Bikram class always follows the same sequence, but the class is taught in a heated room, much like Hot yoga. Generally, the only difference between Bikram and hot yoga is a hot yoga studio must deviate from Bikram’s sequence in some way, because the Bikram sequence is trademarked, so they must call themselves by another name.
Once you know the types of yoga and choose the style that appeals to you most, it is time to learn how to start doing yoga and that means learning the basic yoga poses.
There are many ways to get your yoga start, and these are some of the most popular ways to learn how to do yoga poses.
Many people start with a beginning yoga retreat. A yoga retreat is one of the best ways to start yoga. This is where you stay for a period of time at a certain retreat center or school and engross yourself in learning the yoga lifestyle. Generally, these retreats teach you yoga breathing (pranayama), yoga stretches, yoga exercises (asanas), yoga flow, yoga sequencing and also basic meditation principles. Some incorporate a certain level of spirituality, and some don’t. Yoga retreats are fun but intense. You will make new friends, learn basic yoga poses, and learn some yoga philosophies, but be prepared to feel a little overwhelmed at first. It’s all part of the journey to become a yogi.
There are thousands of yoga retreats around the world to choose from and you will need to put in a good deal of research to find the best yoga retreat for you. There are many things to consider besides just the price of the yoga retreat. How much will it cost you to travel there? If you are traveling away from your homeland is it a safe area for tourists? What are the visa requirements? Is the retreat center or school accredited or sanctioned by the Yoga Alliance or another governing body? Does that even matter to you? What is their reputation? Do they have good online reviews? What other things are there to do in the area in terms of recreation? How many students do they accommodate at one time? How is the food and accommodations? What will the weather be like at that time? Do they teach any spiritual aspects of yoga (such as chanting)? Are you comfortable with that? These are all important topics to research before you decide on a particular yoga retreat.
If you find that you are pretty out of shape and haven’t been engaging in exercise for quite some time, private lessons may be a great way for you to get your yoga start. Some people feel too self-conscious about their physical condition and appearance to go to a main stream yoga class. This is when private lessons can be very helpful. A private yoga teacher will focus just on you. The purpose of the lessons will be to teach you how to do yoga poses correctly so that you will have more confidence and eventually be ready to integrate with more main stream yoga classes. Often these classes are taught in a yoga studio or in your home. A private instructor will teach you how to start yoga at home so that you can start practicing yoga on your own. Self-practice is an important part of the yoga lifestyle.
Yoga classes are usually taught in yoga studios, fitness centers, community centers or yoga schools. Don’t’ forget about the different types of yoga and to find classes for that particular style. If they advertise as just “yoga” with no specific description as to the type of yoga, you should call to inquire about the style. It’s important when doing beginning yoga that you have good experiences so that you will feel motivated to continue. Find out how many students attend and if the room is heated. How long is the class? Will the teacher help you with your alignment? How advanced is the class and the other students? How much do the classes cost and how many times per week will you attend? Make sure that you will feel comfortable in the class and not be pressured to do things beyond your skill level.
There are lots of great videos on YouTube or Amazon that you can watch to learn yoga. There are even cable TV shows that can help you learn yoga. Today’s digital age makes learning yoga pretty easy. The nice thing about electronic media is that you can pause it while you try it and get it right. You can rewind it and watch it over and over, or even fast forward through poses that are beyond your current skill level. The downside of videos is that you don’t get any one-on-one coaching. If you do the asana incorrectly no one is there to point it out. This makes you more vulnerable to forming bad habits that may be hard to break later on. It also makes you more prone to injury. Be very careful about learning and doing yoga exercises by yourself without any outside instruction, because if you do some of them incorrectly, or push yourself too hard, you can cause injury to your body.
Books are a great way to learn how to do yoga, but they are more of a medium for enhancing your other methods of learning. If you want to learn how to start doing yoga, books will give you some great knowledge and insight, but they aren’t the best way to start a yoga practice because you can’t watch others in order to learn how to do the yoga poses (asanas). They will however teach you a lot about the different yoga styles, philosophy, history, principles, etc.
The Anatomy of Fitness Yoga, by Hinkler is one of my all-time favorites. “This user-friendly 192-page paperback book contains a comprehensive introduction to yoga, detailed anatomical illustrations of the muscles used in each exercise, variations to increase or lessen the challenge, and a bonus poster featuring anatomical diagrams and an easy-to-follow yoga sequence. With over 65 essential step-by-step yoga poses and a range of different yoga sequences ranging from easy to intense, including the Salutation to the Sun, anyone can tailor a program to suit their fitness requirements. Improve core strength, increase stamina, build willpower, and get greater control over your mind and body”. This book was the first yoga book I ever purchased and is still my favorite go to guide on yoga exercise and yoga sequence.
The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, by Desikachar, is another popular yoga book. It is more about the art, science, and philosophy of yoga, beginning with the teachings from Sri T. Krishnamacharya, considered to be the father of modern yoga. Desikachar is also considered to be one of the greatest yoga teachers of all time, so we get the benefit of his wisdom. As an added bonus, this book also includes a translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the 2,000-year-old bible of essential yoga teachings. The Yoga Sutra is not an easy read, but it is the standard yoga bible that every yogi should read when they are ready.
There are a lot of great websites for learning yoga and engrossing yourself in the lifestyle. YogaToday was one of the first online yoga class websites. Their classes are filmed in gorgeous studios and beautiful outdoor locations that will leave you feeling relaxed and inspired. They have qualified instructors and three membership options. They even have a “free membership” option. With well over 200 classes to choose from, YogaToday is one of the biggest and most popular online collections of yoga classes.
YogaJournal is also a great website for learning yoga poses. YogaJournal has one of the largest collection of articles about yoga, including numerous home practices and detailed pose instructions. It is a great resource for learning how to do yoga poses, yoga stretching and yoga flow.
Life.Gaiam is a popular website for living a better life through health-based, spiritual, and sustainable life practices. One of their most popular features is their Yoga Answers and Solutions Go-To Guide, a great summary to the many articles, videos, and DVDs on the subject of all things yoga.
Things you should know
There is so much to learn about yoga. In some other countries, such as India, people can actually get a Master’s in Yoga Science. Think about that for a moment. You could spend a couple of years learning nothing but yoga full time! That is how much there is to learn about yoga. In many eastern countries yoga instructors study with a master yogi or guru for many years before they will even consider teaching a class. In western culture yoga is treated much differently. Commonly, after just a 200-hour class, graduated students can and do begin teaching classes, especially if they practiced yoga for a number of years before obtaining their yoga instructor certification.
The important thing about starting your yoga practice is to take your time. There is no need to rush. It’s a journey, not a destination. Learn all you can and really study it. As you learn, you will find your own path, because it is different for everyone. Be careful to listen to your body and not push yourself too hard. If you start to feel a strain, tremble from exertion, or feel pain, stop immediately and try again later. Yoga injuries are far too common and can be easily avoided if students will just pay attention to the all-important signals of their own body.
Lastly, don’t feel like you have to invest tons of money in the lifestyle. Just like more main stream sports, the media tries to convince you that you have to buy the latest trends in yoga apparel, props, books, etc. It’s not necessary. You can do yoga in a swimsuit or pair of old sweat pants. You can research online and not pay much for anything. Don’t fall into the trap of feeding your ego by purchasing all the latest and greatest products. It’s actually counter to the yoga philosophy of moderation and humility. Enjoy your yoga journey. It is an exciting one that can change your life in ways that you could never imagine.